CU Buffs women tackle big challenge in season opener

JR Payne’s team begins year on the road against Oklahoma State

University of Colorado Boulder's Mya Hollingshed (No. 21) shoots over Colorado School of Mines's Courtney Stanton (No. 45) at CU Events Center in Boulder on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado Boulder’s Mya Hollingshed (No. 21) shoots over Colorado School of Mines’s Courtney Stanton (No. 45) at CU Events Center in Boulder on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Typically, the Colorado women’s basketball team eases into the season against a lower-tier opponent that comes to Boulder for a brief visit and leaves with a loss.

Recent openers under head coach JR Payne have come against Western State, NJIT, Northern Colorado and Samford.

This year, the Buffaloes are diving head-first into the season, as they open Wednesday night at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., against the Oklahoma State Cowgirls.

“It’s a very tall task, but we’re ready to play someone else and excited to get the season underway,” said Payne, who will begin her sixth season leading the Buffs.

A year ago, the Buffs had their best season under Payne, finishing 12-11 and 8-8 in the always difficult Pac-12. With the core of the team back, plus a pair of talented transfers and two freshmen, the Buffs have big goals for this season.

Oklahoma State will provide an immediate test for the Buffs. The Cowgirls went 19-9 last season and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament before being knocked out by eventual national champion Stanford.

“I think this is one of the big opening games that we’ve had as a program in a while,” CU senior Mya Hollingshed said. “So I think we’ll take that to heart and I think it’s just because our coach believes in us and she thinks we’re ready.

“I think that will kind of give us what we see on a nightly basis in the Pac-12. Seeing different, bigger competition it will definitely prepare us. I think that’s why they build our preseason schedule, to prepare us for the rigors of the Pac-12 competition.

“We’re excited to be in their gym and step on their floor, and hopefully get a win.”

Knowing the potential and expectations for her program this season, Payne felt it was important to test the Buffs right away.

“We know that they’re a great team,” Payne said. “We also know that we’re a great team. I think both Oklahoma State and us wanted to challenge ourselves out of the gate. And certainly starting on the road at Oklahoma State, who was a round of 32 team last year is not an easy task, but we’re excited for that challenge. I see a lot of opportunity in it.”

CU has spent the past several weeks preparing for this moment. Hollingshed and Payne both said it’s been a productive preseason of workouts.

“Just being a fifth-year (player), I just kind of see the growth and transition that a lot of players have made,” said Hollingshed, a returning first-team All-Pac-12 selection. “I see the experience everyone is talking about. I see the veteranship that we have on our team, just being that we are mostly seniors on this team.”

Hollingshed leads the way, but the Buffs have a veteran core that includes guards Sila Finau and Jaylyn Sherrod and forward Peanut Tuitele. There is also a talented group of underclassmen, led by sophomore guard Frida Formann.

It’s a group that is ready to hit the road and get the season underway – even in a difficult venue against a formidable opponent.

“I think we’re tired of practicing against each other, to be honest,” Payne said. “I think you get to a place where you practice for so long and you’re playing the same people every day and we’re just excited to start for real.

“We’re working to execute and do our jobs to the best of our ability, but it’s time to start playing.”

CU Buffs women’s basketball at Oklahoma State Cowgirls

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. MT, at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla.

BROADCAST: Online – ESPN+. Radio – 630 AM

2020-21 RECORDS: Colorado 12-11 (8-8 Pac-12); Oklahoma State (19-9 (13-5 Big 12)

COACHES: Colorado – JR Payne, 5th season (72-75; 173-188 career). Oklahoma State – Jim Littell, 11th season (195-120).

KEY PLAYERS (2020-21 Statistics): Colorado – G Sila Finau, 5-9, Sr. (5.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.6 apg); G Frida Formann, 5-11, So. (12.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg); F Mya Hollingshed, 6-3, Sr. (15.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg); G Jaylyn Sherrod, 5-7, Jr. (10.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.1 apg); F Peanut Tuitele, 6-1, Sr. (7.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg). Oklahoma State – G N’Yah Boyd, 5-6, Jr. (11.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.7 apg); F Taylen Collins, 6-1, So. (6.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.1 apg); C Kassidy De Lapp, 6-3, Sr. (3.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Lauren Fields, 5-9, Jr. (8.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg); G Neferatali Notoa, 5-11, So. (4.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg).

NOTES: This is the season opener for both teams. In exhibition games, CU defeated Colorado Mines, 63-52, while OSU defeated Southern Nazarene, 64-40. … CU has won 21 consecutive season openers, dating back to a loss at Denver in the 1999-2000 opener. In program history, the Buffs are 42-5 in season openers. … Oklahoma State is 37-11 in season openers and has won 15 in a row. … This will be CU’s first time starting the season on the road since a visit to Samford to open the 2017-18 season. The Buffs will actually start this year with two road games, including Sunday at Air Force. … The former Big Eight/Big 12 rivals have met 52 times, splitting the series 26-26. They have met just once since CU left for the Pac-12, with OSU defeating the Buffs, 78-70, in the Women’s NIT quarterfinals in Stillwater, on March 25, 2012. … Littell has led the Cowgirls to the NCAA Tournament six times in his 10 seasons as head coach. … On Tuesday, Hollingshed was one of 50 players named to the preseason watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, presented annually to the top player in the country.